It’s exciting to get married. And hectic. Many couples create a wedding checklist. Flowers ordered? Check. A tasting appointment scheduled for the carrot cake? Check. Liquor purchased for the open bar? Check. Will update?
Hold it. Will update? Why should that be on anyone’s wedding checklist? It’s certainly not romantic. Nor is it something that the wedding guests will enjoy – it’s not a tasty appetizer or delicious bite of wedding cake. But updating your will might well be one of the most important aspects in starting a new life together.
Presumably, the two spouses-to-be already have some estate planning in place. And they may have already included the other spouse-to-be in their estate plan if it’s a long-term relationship. If a spouse-to-be needs to update their will, what factors should they consider?
- Community Property. After marriage, absent a marital agreement to the contrary, community property will likely start to be created between spouses who are Washington residents. How should that new form of ownership be taken into account in an estate plan?
- Estate Tax Planning. After the marriage, the couple needs to start taking a look at whether their combined assets create Washington estate tax liabilities or, potentially, even federal estate tax liabilities. If so, the couple, jointly, can work on strategies to eliminate or avoid those estate tax liabilities.
- Choice of Personal Representative. Pursuant to RCW 11.28.030, ‘[a] surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner shall be entitled to administer upon the community property, notwithstanding any provisions of the will to the contrary.” If the bride or groom’s current estate plan nominates a sibling or a best friend to be the personal representative, that provision may need to be revised based on Washington law.
- Distribution of Primary Residence. Most spouses, if they weren’t residing together before the wedding, will be living in the same residence after the wedding. If the primary residence is owned rather than rented, how will that residence be handled in each spouse’s estate plan? If one spouse dies, in many cases both spouses want the surviving spouse to be able to continue to live in the primary residence. That may not be an “automatic.” Estate planning may be required to distribute both the primary residence, and the “contents” of the primary residence (furniture, appliances, art, etc.) to the surviving spouse.
- Distribution of Other Assets. If one spouse dies, what happens to surviving spouse from a financial standpoint? Many Washington residents mistakenly believe that all of their property magically becomes community property once they say, “I do” and the surviving spouse will automatically get everything. That’s not true. Estate planning will likely be required to distribute assets to the surviving spouse so that, in the event of an unexpected death, the surviving spouse will be in a more secure place financially.
So, by all means, tackle that wedding checklist. Make sure the flowers are lovely, the carrot cake is scrumptious, and the cocktails are spot on. And make sure, also, the estate planning documents are updated to fully take account of the new marriage.
This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.